25 September 2009

Organic...What's In A Name?

Organic...What's In A Name?

What’s in a name?  Everything according to branding consultants. 

I think this is an area that the organic movement has got badly wrong.  Everyone knows what fair-trade should be about just from the name, so while there are various different systems, they are all the same really, i.e. it’s all about being fair to everyone you trade with.

Yet what does organic actually mean?  I know that there are loads of standards and rules and regulations etc etc.  And I know that lots of famous people, from The Prince of Wales through to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, all explain why organic is good for us and the planet.

To me, however, organic means chemicals that contain carbon atoms; I remember with a cold sweat my second year organic chemistry at Kings Buildings at Edinburgh University.  Even if it also means something that is derived from or has characteristics similar to living organisms.

I am sure that you will think, so what. 

However, organic chemicals actually includes all the petrochemicals and many of the pesticides, herbicides and chemically-based fertilisers that the organic farming movement finds abhorrent.  It would include DDT and dieldrin, as well as many of the currently available commercial industrial products.

So in effect, organic refers to many of the chemicals that organic farming bans, as well as natural farming without those chemicals.

Confused.  I am not surprised; it's a branding disaster area.  Have I got a clue as to what to call it; of course not, I am a scientist rather than a marketing consultant.  But it's a good challenge for someone to come up with something better.

No wonder lots of people come up to me and say “aren’t all herbs & spices organic anyway?”